Kay-Megan Washington. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, currently playing at Spotlighters (directed by Erin Riley), is a play full of seduction, sex, and style. Two aristocrats use sex as a weapon to humiliate and plot revenge.
I found the plot difficult to understand. The majority of the story was between the Vicomte (Nathan Parry) and the Marquise (Melissa McGinley), ex-lovers who have a teasing, seductive relationship. The Vicomte is determined to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Katherine Vary), who is staying with Valmont’s aunt (Ruta Douglas Smith). At the same time, the Marquise is determined to corrupt young Cecile de Volanges (Jacqueline Chenault), who recently left the convent, since she’s planning to marry the Marquise’s previous lover. However, Cecile falls in love with Chevalier Danceny (Jeffrey L. Springtree Gangwisch), and the Marquise and the Viscomte pretend to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust and use them in their own schemes.
If the goal was to make us hate the Vicomte and the Marquise, the play succeeded.
The Marquise promises the Vicomte that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she’ll spend the night with him. The pursuit is more difficult than the Vicomte imagined, in part because Cecile’s mother, Madame de Volanges (Kay-Megan Washington), wrote to Madame de Tourvel to warn her of the Vicomte’s reputation. In response, the Vicomte seduces Cecile. Meanwhile, the Marquise is having a relationship with Chevalier Danceny.
The Vicomte (surprisingly) ends up falling in love with Madame de Tourvel, and the Marquise tricks him into deserting her (because it’s ‘beyond his control’). To retaliate, the Vicomte tells the Marquise that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cecile, and the Marquise tells Danceny that the Vicomte seduced Cecile. It all ends in a fencing match between Danceny and the Vicomte. Definitely a complicated love triangle… or is it more of a pentagon?
The play opened with the Vicomte (Parry) and the Marquise (McGinley) in a seductive dance, akin to something in Dirty Dancing (complete with the Vicomte in his trademark red tank top). The well-choreographed dancing (Melissa McGinley) continued intermittently between scenes. At one point, all of the Vicomte’s lovers (the Marquise, La Presidente de Tourvel, Cecile de Volanges, and Emilie) dance around him, taunting him. In another scene, Cecile and Le Chevalier Danceny share a dance, which was more sweet and less seductive than the others. In yet another dance, Cecile fights the Vicomte as he tries to seduce her. One thing these dances had in common? A lot of black lingerie. And although it was a bit strange to have dancing between scenes, it was beautiful and broke up all the conversation.
If the goal was to make us hate the Vicomte and the Marquise, the play succeeded. Both characters were incredibly cruel and entirely full of themselves. The Vicomte (Parry) saw himself as the ultimate French lover, romancing every woman he met. The Marquise (McGinley) was a strong woman who knew what she wanted and always got her way. At times, their endless conversations got to be too much, especially since the Vicomte was always trying to touch or kiss the Marquise as they were talking. How could the Vicomte say he was in love with Madame de Tourvel when he was always trying to seduce someone else? The Vicomte and the Marquise seemed to plot and scheme with no motives and no feeling.
Speaking of Madame de Tourvel (Vary), she gave an awesome performance as the woman who fought against the Vicomte but at the end couldn’t resist him. Her conversations were more natural than some of the others, and I could feel her anguish when the Vicomte deserted her and her anger when he wouldn’t leave her alone.
Spotlighters has a unique small-ish square stage with seats on all four sides. Because of this, we never really knew the setting at any point in time, which made it more difficult to follow the action. In between each (and every) scene, Adele and Major Domo carried pieces of furniture (or a mattress and pillows) on and off the set. Sometimes, they simply moved the furniture from one corner to the other. I found this to be a bit annoying, particularly when the characters giggled as they did this.
To me, the play was an odd combination of old world France and modern day, and I wish there was more of a commitment one way or the other. Some actors had slight British accents while most spoke as if they were modern-day Americans with some ‘Madames’ and ‘Mademoiselles’ thrown in. The costumes (Amy Raw Weimer) were also a mixed bag with the Vicomte and Danceny wearing tank tops at certain parts and Adele and Major Domo dressed as if they came out of 18th century France.
What’s amazing is that this play is based on a novel written in 1782 considering the complex themes of adultery, seduction, and manipulation. And it’s amazing that the play involves two aristocrats who have such dark and evil minds, indifferent to the pain they may cause. With two main characters who incite such hatred and manipulate others with sex, it was tough for me to fully enjoy the experience.
Running Time: 3 hours with a 20 minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes, nudity.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays through June 19th, 2016 at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighter’s Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore MD. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.